North Manatee leaders network to better serve community

Published on: February 15, 2018

Karyn Washington, president of the Washington Gardens Neighborhood Association, stands in front of a wall mural at Popi’s Restaurant in Palmetto.


Washington Gardens resident Karyn Washington said she loves her neighbors and neighborhood, and she is looking forward to the Manasota Neighborhoods Summit on Feb. 23.

“I love getting together with other people who are trying to better their community,” said Washington, who has been president of the Washington Gardens Neighborhood Association since it was founded in 2008.

“The first meeting of the association was held on the lawn in my front yard,” she said. “Everyone brought chairs and food.”

Washington said Manatee Sheriff’s Office deputies and Manatee County government officials all came out to that meeting.

“We built trust and partnerships with them,” said the retired business manager for State College of Florida.

“I’m looking for the same with this summit,” Washington said. “You can get so much information there.”

The neighborhood summit “will bring together formal, informal and aspiring neighborhood leaders to learn about improvement trends and opportunities that impact the leadership, safety, environment and enjoyment of our region’s neighborhoods,” according to a county press release announcing the summit.

The half-day event will be held from 8 a.m. to noon, Friday, Feb. 23, at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., in Bradenton.

Registration is $20 per attendee, and can be done online at

Morris Goff, director of the Rubonia Community Center, is looking forward to attending the Manasota Neighborhood Summit.

“We want to give our neighborhoods the resources and knowledge to be the best advocates for their communities,” said Manatee County Neighborhood Connections Coordinator Debbie DeLeon in the press release. “This summit allows neighborhood leaders to network with other like-minded leaders as well as the organizations that serve them.”

That was exactly what Morris Goff, director of the Rubonia Community Center was hoping to find when he attends the summit.

“We can find out how others are doing in their area and how it can help us,” Goff said. “They may be doing a whole lot better than us.

“The last workshop I attended was a big help to us,” he said.

A Manatee County-organized neighborhood assembly has been in existence for 10 years, DeLeon said, and many local community leaders would attend neighborhood summits the statewide organization Florida Neighborhood Conference would sponsor throughout the state.

In 2013, Manatee County hosted the Florida Neighborhood Conference.

“The Florida Neighborhood Conference didn’t meet last year, and we’re not planning one for this year, so the county Neighborhood Services Department got together with Sarasota County and decided to have our own,” DeLeon said. “We expect 75 to 100 communities to be represented.”

Besides providing opportunities to network with other community leaders, the summit will hold workshops on crime prevention, communications storm water management and several other areas of interest to neighborhood groups.

For Washington, who had attended previous summits, this will be an opportunity to learn how to achieve the association’s new goals.

“We are working on getting welcome signs for the neighborhood,” she said. “And we are developing a neighborhood plan.”

Washington Gardens is bounded by 25th Street East, 33rd Street East, U.S. 41 and Canal Road, just north of Palmetto.

There are about 150 single-family homes in the community, and many of the residents are older citizens who cannot get out, Washington said.

She said the neighborhood plan would address drainage issues, sidewalks, and a possible community center with a recreational playground.

The association already has been successful in getting streetlights in the neighborhood.

“As individuals you can’t go to the county (to accomplish big projects),” Washington said, “but as a group you can.”

Goff, the Rubonia Community Center director, agreed that there is strength in numbers.

“At the summit there will be experts to show us strategies that we can use for community unity,” he said.

The Rubonia community located along Terra Ceia Bay in northern Manatee County was settled in the early 1900s by black laborers who worked in the vegetable fields on Terra Ceia Island and north of Palmetto.

But today there are several white and Hispanic families living in the neighborhood, and Goff wants them to feel like part of the community.

“We need to learn their culture, so we can be one community,” he said.

“We all can be one,” Goff said. “The kids know each other and see no differences. We now need to get the grown-ups to do that.”

The Rubonia native said the community has several successes already.

They received funding from Manatee County to reopen their community center to provide programs for seniors and youth.

“And the county has put forth an effort to install a storm water system and sidewalks,” Goff said.

But he said he hopes to get advice at the summit on how to keep the county on track with that project.

“(We will) participate in a conversation with local government on topics that impact our community, our economy and neighborhoods,” Goff wrote in a written report on the summit. “(We hope to) learn about some of the exciting projects happening this year and how (we) can stay informed, connected and involved with Manatee County and our community.”

Derrick Randall, who runs the youth programs at the Rubonia Community Center, also will be attending the conference.

“This will be my first neighborhood summit,” Randall said. “I want to engage with other citizens of the (broader) community so I can equate what we do and what they do, and we can come together.”

Randall, who was born and raised in Rubonia, was one of the younger residents Goff wanted to get involved in helping to build the community.

“Rubonia is a small vibrant community that can do a lot now,” Goff said, “but young people don’t seem to have the drive of earlier generations.”

But Randall, a Purple Heart recipient for injuries received during his military service in Iraq, was prepared to work on getting the youth of Rubonia involved.

His organization, D.L. Randall Foundation, is contracted by Manatee County to provide before- and after-school programs for the children of the community.

“This keeps them off the streets and helps them with academics,” Randall said. “And we also teach them community-building skills.”

The children organized a Thanksgiving dinner for the community last year, he said.

They planned, cooked and served the dinner to the adults.

Randall, who has a master’s degree in clinical social work from St. Leo College, and is working on his dissertation for his doctorate in human behavior, said his work at the Rubonia Community Center has come full circle.

“My first job was at the community center,” he said,

Randall then joined the U.S. Army at 20 and served for 10 and one-half years before going to college.

For more information on the Manasota Neighborhoods Summit, call 941-749-3030 or email

For more information about the Rubonia Community Center, visit their website at

To learn more about Derrick Randall and his foundation, visit